The Silent History for Interactive Readers: A Novel Concept

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"She already looked half-dead on the drive to the hospital," the story begins, from the perspective of fictional Theodore Greene in El Cerrito. "But I wouldn't admit this until much later." Mel, Theodore's wife, is giving birth to Spencer, who turns out to be a Silent. The novel leaves and picks up Theodore and Mel as quickly as it does many other characters. Each story centers on the prevalence of children labeled "Silents" who not only are mute, but approach the world in a fantastic way.

Former McSweeney's publisher Eli Horowitz and renown authors Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, and Russell Quinn are behind The Silent History: A New Kind of Novel. New kind of novel is right; the story doesn't live between physical pages that smell like your childhood, adulthood and all things just right, and not on a Kindle. Rather, the novel is designed for your iPhone/iPad, and you get to write for it too.

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It's that futuristic -- one step closer to the future I imagine we'll be having, where we're all drinking recycled piss and thinking microchip thoughts automatically directing our brains to the appropriate Wikipedia page (laptops will be obsolete, but our heads will be slightly heavier with an almost imperceptible droop to the left).

The story has a future of its own, moving us between the years 2011 and 2043, documenting cases of Silents in real-time, reading as an oral history. Because Silents are not yet formally studied and the world doesn't yet know how to interact with them, Silents will often be found living in their own impoverished communes and pockets all over the world. We follow the stories of people as they experience Silents, whether they be their own child, a student in a school, a patient, a neighbor, or a stumbled-upon Silent community. Characters are both peripheral and linked to each other and we come to know many of them intimately.

You can both read and write reader-generated fan fiction in the form of field reports at specified locations, a new story about encountering a Silent. At 12th and Lawton, you'll find yourself at a playground with welcoming concrete tables. The fan writer who entered the field report, Max Rubin, tells of a longtime resident, a middle-aged man walking his dog, passing a Silent child, who is sitting by himself, poking around with a pointed shovel in the community garden. Something about the image is as unearthly as the tone of the The Silent History itself. The field report grows to get stranger as the man gets back to the house -- a loud knock at the door juxtaposed with a whistling tea kettle. The dog runs out of the house, and the narrator finds himself in such desperation that he goes back to shake the child, screaming, "Where did she go?!" With similar field reports all over the world, readers and lay-contributors of the growing story are inspired.

Each chapter, or "volume" of The Silent History costs $1.99 each, $8.99 for all 500 pages, and feeds you episodic vignettes on the daily. The work is written with the intention to hook you in. "The serialized structure of the storytelling helped keep us focused on crisp movement and twists and action," says Horowitz. "But we were also still concerned with all the fundamental values of any good novel: character, voice, heart, ideas."

Watch the trailer, narrated by Ira Glass and Miranda July.

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janthesvg
janthesvg

I am hopeful now that someone with industry pull is writing transmedia, other work will get the attention it deserves. For earlier experiments see the Electronic Literature Collection http://collection.eliterature.org/2/. For transmedia storytelling about a real epidemic viewers will want to explore  www.queerskins.com. (Best viewed in CHROME)

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